Thursday, February 5, 2009


Who is my neighbor? We all have a good idea of what a neighborhood is. Who our neighbors are. Normally, we think of the people who live on the same street as us. The Brown’s down the way. The parents of our children’s friends. Our grocery store clerks that we see weekly, the Starbucks Barista that gets my Americano ready every morning before 6am Morning Prayer….
Anyway, even the Greek used for the word “neighbor” means “close by”, “near”, and “fellow”. We are needy people. Most people don’t recluse into being a hermit. We typically live together, share with one another the common bond which we all need: love. I’m sure there are some of you who remember the old kiddy show Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood. You know, “Won’tcha be my neighbor”. Right? Okay maybe not. But ask corny as it is, we like our communities, some at arm and shoulder, and others at arms length. Either way, we love the warming welcome from Mr. Rodgers to be close by, and near.
My home town as many as you know and I accept your condolences, is Bakersfield California. The biggest little town you could ever be in. We’ve talked about “Six Degress of Separation” in our Global Reconciliation Classes. The theory states that due to modern globalization, everyone in the world is only sex people away from each other. Well in Bakersfield, that degree shrinks down to about 3. That reminds me of funny dating situation. But I’ll save that for another sermon. I can remember countless times where my 01’ Ford Ranger needed a jump, or I ran out of gas. And it was never the case that I couldn’t find someone to help me out. Complete strangers. And I can also recall doing the same for others. I remember seeing people getting out of their cars to help someone push their car to a gas station. I might still gripe about that town, but in a lot of ways it had a nice community spirit to it. We were all neighbors.

Now, once again Jesus has a lawyer who has to use his wits to put Jesus in his place and question who can get away with in not calling a neighbor and still have eternal life. He already got the answer to the question he originally asked. Jesus said to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (a phrase we Episcopalians are quite familiar with) and then he would have eternal life. But, like many of us when it comes to God’s inclusive love to all…we do try to find loop holes. The “Jesus love you, but I’m trying” attitude. And as Jesus did so well, he told a story.

So you’re going down to Jericho. You’re going to an oasis. Lots of shade, water abounding, rest, and in some Biblical cases, healing. Jericho’s nickname still is the “City of Palms”. Oh yes, it’s gonna be great! The only problem is, you are literally traveling down to one of the lowest point on Earth. You are traveling down from about two thousand feet above sea level, to about eight hundred feet below. Down a steep valley which may actually be “The” Valley of the Shadow of Death. This road had a reputation for bandits and the like! And of course, while your in the middle of Mojave going to Paradise you get robbed! Your car is jacked, they took your food, money, make-up, accessories, everything…they beat you up pretty bad and they leave you high and dry. So you’re half dead. And what do you see coming? The clergymen! The Priest and then Levite. You’re saved! Right? ERGH. Wrong. This wouldn’t be the friendly collared man or woman with their faithful lay Eucharistic minister trailing behind. The Priest had his duties in the temple to perform sacrifices and the Levite had to help him. So, even though God gave care of the world to Israel in Leviticus, they had obligations to keep clean and pure as outlined in the Torah. So okay. You’re screwed. You’re gonna die. Oh wait! You see someone coming. But, crap…it’s a Samaritan. And being a Jew, you don’t like Samaritans. They are half-Jews. They don’t like you anyway! But the Samaritan picks you up. Bandages your wounds. Takes you to the nearest Holiday Inn, and pays for your room and medical expenses and pays for people to take care of you. Now really, if this had happened to you wouldn’t you be so thankful and gracious. I’m sure we all have our own similar stories of someone we know (or may not know!) going out of their way for us. It was a good time for us to recognize that we were a neighbor.
Notice how Jesus didn’t ask the lawyer at the end of the parable, “So really, who’s your neighbor?” But he reworded the question, “So, out of these guys, who was a neighbor to the victim?” And the answer was the one who had mercy on him.
Who are our neighbors? Are they the protestors who are still trying to make same-sex marriage illegal? Our roommates who sing badly in the shower? The Nigerian Anglicans? We can’t pick and choose them as the lawyer wanted to. Think of the victim as us. Those who have been wounded by the world on our rocky journey. Everyone in life tends to be ignored, even by those are considered “Holy”. But in every of life’s situations God sends the Good Samaritan who took us, welcomed us, and had mercy on us, and gave us grace. The Inn, you could call the Church. The place were all are welcomed to rest of off the hot, rocky valley traveled.
We are called to see Christ in everyone. We are called to as seen through out the Gospels to bring in those far and near to our banquet table. In the faces those we love, and meet, near and far, is our Lord. And it is our responsibility to replicate God’s love for us through his son, by loving others as ourselves, as he loves us.
So, really…who is your neighbor?

Thoughts on the death of Christ (originally written Good Friday '08

For the longest time, I never understood how the death of Christ works and atones for our sins. I always believed, of course, that Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead. Even C.S. Lewis said that just as man has always eaten his meals knowing it is good for him no matter what science supports, so is the believing in the Mystery of our Salvation no matter if it makes sense or not, we know it works. As I reflected on the Good Friday lessons and looked at the cross that Christ died on and prayed, I thought about the death of Christ. What it is, what it means, and how it makes sense in the big picture in out salvation.Death is essential in life and unavoidable. It marks the end of a life and recalls the beginning and all the time spend between. It is perhaps the largest event in life in which all mortal men will face. It is a universal symbol in all cultures which marks the twisted idea that in death, there is rebirth and new life. The earliest excavations of the dead being buried have traces of flowers in their graves, and the hands and feet of the dead were bound up. Whether it being reincarnation, or a life in the world to come, we as humans are deeply impacted by the ending of life in a very sacramental way.In most cultures and religions, the spilling of blood is what often makes death transform into new life. Rituals which emphasize this are some of earliest man has practiced and are nearly universal. What can explain this phenomenon? Did our early primitive ancestors come up with the idea and it spread across the worlds and across the seas and lands by coincidence? I think not. Rather than being an ancient religious trend which survived today, it is a part of which is imbedded in all human behavior and endeavor. A very large and extended serendipity moment. Just like the practice and idea of religion itself, we know in our sixth senses and third eyes that the death and spilling of blood is essential for new life.After the God of the Hebrews delivered Moses and the Hebrews out of Egypt he established a covenant where YHWH would be their God and they would be his chosen people and would follow the laws set before them. And once a year a high priest would stand before God in the temple and sacrifice an unblemished and perfect lamb on the behalf the of the people that theirs sins of being unable to keep the law would atone for.The entire Old Testament, in a nutshell, is a number of stories how the chosen people would not keep God’s Laws and would call them to repent. A number of times God would not accept their sacrifices due to their resistance to him. And thus they remained in their sins.Though God how wrathful he may be in delivering his people to their enemies is also shown through out scripture God to be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and full of mercy and love. God knew that Israel, let along the whole population of the world, was not capable of keeping his law. God eventually aloud Israel to be exiled from the Holy Land. And The Prophets were sent by God to urge Israel to repent of her sins, and foretell the promise of the messiah.God knowing this, Incarnated himself into the Virgin Mary that he would be born a mortal. Fully man, yet fully God. Jesus as God’s begotten knew why he was sent. To yet again repeat the words of the prophets of repentance and to bring back those who had broken Gods law. The only differences, God was preaching to his own people face to face and the message of the law was summarized: to love.In animal sacrifice, the means are temporal and profane. The affects they had only changed the soul insomuch till Israel sinned again. God in his love knew he would have to do it himself. Just as the highest and most perfect priest would represent the people and sacrifice a lamb to God for the forgiveness of sins, so did Jesus represent the whole population of the earth and sacrifice himself as a lamb for the reconciliation between the profane and the cosmos.The word “sacred” means that something is “set apart”. Jesus, being fully man, and yet fully God was desecrated in the worst way possible at the time. Being whipped by leather lashes with pieces of sharp rocks and glass in them, and having hands and feet nail to a piece of unstable wood, pulling on his pierced limbs in order to breath. In the death of the absolute Sacred, God himself; came new life, and the sacrifice was perfect and complete. God alone knows how and why this law and pattern of the spilling of blood works.

Of course, if Jesus had just died and that was the end of the story; then we would have no idea if his death was actually worth anything and if mankind was really reconciled unto God. It would be a normal death and shedding of blood which brought forth the means of nothing. However, the death of Christ the Sacred brought forth the new life in his resurrection from the dead, the ultimate miracle of miracles as a sign that the sacrifice was complete and our sins no longer kept us from God’s presence.
In Jewish thought, the current profane world we live in is seen as broken and in need of fixing. I propose in this writing that this is one of the many Laws of the Cosmos: the world is broken. And the only means of fixing it is by means of sacramental ways. Ways which are paradoxes Paradoxed ways by which the profane is used to make something holy. For example, the using of death to bring life. Or, the profaning of the most Holy person ever seen. Religion does not make sense outside of its own context. A lot of people think that the idea of death for life is primitive, ancient, non-practical, and absurd. And they are most right. It is absurd. It can't be proven with means of modern methods of science and the results can't necessarily be seen. But, so is all of religion in general. A person can't simply take an idea out of its context and expect it to make sense. The picture painted by modern religion makes God like Santa. Someone way high north who sees and keeps track of all we do and will reward or punish us. It is absurd. Praying aloud alone looks like a person is talking to themselves. But when viewing spirituality this way, the point of religion is lost. The purpose of extending yourself to something which is utterly beyond you is lost. Religion isn’t God. It’s a framework used to understanding God. Spirituality isn’t God. It’s a tool to practice God in a person’s life. The purpose of religion and spirituality is not to bring full understanding and full enlightenment on the ways of God; but to help us start the long journey towards the cosmos and bring partial enlightenment to the numerous things which we will never understand

. Having all this in mind makes me appreciate the coming Easter. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Will come again. Our sins are forgiven. Alleluia!

Luke 22:24 (originall written in December)

Today’s Gospel reading seems out of place for Advent. After all, Advent is the season of symbolic waiting. Symbolically, we wait and yearn for the coming of the Messiah as the Jews did for four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. And parallel to waiting for the Messiah to come, we who are Christians wait for our Messiah to come again. During Advent we look forward to birth of Jesus. So while our churches are flocked with blue and wreathes, our reading today calls to mind the Season of Lent where we prepare for the Resurrection of Jesus by learning about his death a few months from now.

If you notice in the Lectionary for Daily Readings, The readings started over with Jesus entering into the Jerusalem during Passover. Palm Sunday, right? However the reason for this odd combination of season and scripture is because as we read about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, we also symbolically await his coming into the world, Christmas.

Our readings have thus brought up to this point on the Mount of Olives. Here Jesus knowing what is to pass, prays.

In life, we wait. Waiting for Joyous occasions such as the birth of children, or children waiting to make their first trip to Disney Land. Or daily trivial events; waiting in the lines are grocery stores or the bank. Or less fortunate events when we are just “waiting for IT” to happen; foreclosure, divorce, even death. If I had to guess, this was probably Jesus’ version of waiting.

In these types of waiting, we don’t typically want them to happen. They aren’t fun. They are periods of anxiety where we may know what is coming, we may not know what to expect.

Here in his own agony and anxiety of waiting, Jesus returns one final time to his favorite retreat spot, and prays. In his prayer he asked if God was willing that this cup would be removed from him. But either way God’s will be done. Typically in scripture, Angels are sent to be messengers. If I were in Jesus situation, I would probably be absolutely stoked to see an angel, with perhaps hope of God removing “this cup”. But instead, the angel offers words of encouragement, only making the reality of God’s will, all too solid.

Jesus probably prayed a lot more that what is recorded in the Gospel. But the writer chose to note these words in his gospel. In this short prayer is the ultimate character of Christ: Obedience to the will of God. And particularly, obedience unto death. The will of God in his prayer is symbolized as a cup. Just a few verses before we see Jesus blessing the Passover wine as the blood of the New Covenant. A cup from which liturgical Christians remember and rejoice in every Sunday. Why a cup? A cup is something which holds something, and we take its contents in. In Holy Communion, we take the cup of salvation which holds the blood of Christ, and we take in the newness of life which came from Jesus death. In Jesus’ case on the Mount of Olives, the cup is the will of God for Jesus, and it holds the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering for which he is about to endure. This is the point of no return for Jesus. Its Jesus’ had been waiting for since day one; Christmas.

Jesus was human. We are human. In his Incarnation is assumed all of humanity. All humans suffer and experience shortcomings in our lives, some darker than others. We all know too well the pain of emotional agony in our minds which in turn causes anguish on our bodies. We all know too well the pains of being mortal humans. So did Jesus.

In this season, we reflect on what we do most in life: wait. No matter what is waited for, it is important to see that in waiting we are not to just sit, wait, and do nothing. We act. Jesus acted by praying. Not only was he waiting for that which was to come, but he was preparing and getting ready. It’s easy to sit idle in dark times. It often seems that there is just simply nothing left to do. It’s all too easy to forget that depressing story about the death of an innocent man doesn’t end here. It was also God’s will that Jesus should overcome death.

Jesus was a man of action. From turning tables over riding on a donkey. Jesus kept pretty busy. So ought we. I’m not saying that God will take all our problems away and change his will for us just in one prayer. But if we discern what the will of God is in our lives and accept his cup, then we can always know that we will resurrect from our darkness and demons into something better. This is the hardest part of Christian Spirituality, knowing that as Julian of Norwich said, “In the manner of all things, all shall be well” will always be true.

In his Incarnation he was made fully man. Everyone one of us will face death. It is important to always remember that though our death clock seems to always be ticking, it is what we do in our “dead time” which will have everlasting impacts.

John 1:5

John 1:5

Light and darkness. Day and night. Left or right. Black or white. The polar opposites of light and dark has always been a reoccurring theme in how mankind understands the world about him. Typically, as seen in the Star Wars epic; light is good, and dark is bad. They are set a great distance from each other in mans logic. Well, after all; when do most crimes occur? In the darkness of night. When does a person rise and greet the world and go about their daily business? In the day. We warn our children not to go into the dark for danger lurks at every corner. At death, and sometimes in spoofs and parodies, we encourage the soul to go “into the light”.
So many stories have come about from our dichotomy of light versus dark. As mentioned, Star Wars. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Light, and dark. We like our labels. We like telling which jar should go on which self. Hell, human history has even based the color of one skin to tell the difference if they are “good or bad”. Chalk on up for humanity.

I tend not to be a morning person. I really am not the type of person to jump up and open the curtains and greet the morning sun. Because honestly, after eight hours of darkness, the light kind of burns

I could go on light and dark differences, but I think you get the point.

However, in John’s Gospel, John does not have the notions which we do on the matter.

Light and darkness transcends even written human history. The very early creation story recalls it as one of the first acts of God by differentiating day and night. However; yet again, not with the same understanding as we tend to have it.

John begins his Gospel with this beautiful prologue about the incarnation of Jesus being the “word made flesh”. In this prologue, Jesus is described as the “true light” which comes from God. As Simeon prophesized, “a light to enlighten the nations”.

Even though we see that this light has come down from the Cosmos into our world. We still see darkness. Better yet, we still live in darkness. The times of our recessing economy, the war in the middle east where men use women and children as shields in battle. Our world and our lives constantly change. And we look in a mirror to see a reflection of what we really look like as a human race, and hope the mirror is cracked.

Darkness still lives among us. But, there I go again, making distinctions.

What is light anyway? We use it to our advantage. We grow our food by it. Cook by it. Read, study, work by it. It’s a rather large necessity. What about the “true light” which John speaks of?

John’s Prologue parallels the creation story in Genesis. Let’s go back there and take a look. Not long after God created light, God created man. And though man lived with the day and night which God created, God’s light was always there. Then humanity fell from Eden, thus darkening our minds and separating humanity from God’s love. And this is the state of the world we see today.

Back to John.

Jesus comes into a dark world. The world around us. Where sin and separation prevail. Here; light and dark truly meet for the first time. The text says that the “darkness did not overcome it”. Sounds hopeful, right? Well, actually the Greek reads “darkness did not comprehend it”. Big difference.

But, it sounds about right.

How often do we not comprehend the light? The choices we make, the things we do, which aren’t very enlightening or light-full. We get in these messy situations were our internal light bulb clicks in after the fact and we think, “oh, yeah, duh”. Even Paul, maybe with or with out the help of psychology, made the amazing observation in Romans that we do the things we don’t want to do, and don’t do the things we should.

But there I go again, duality at its best. Light, and darkness.

You see. If we didn’t live in darkness, we would be ignorant of what the light is. If we lived in only the light, we would be ignorant of the darkness that lies in our world.

I think referring to light and darkness as “states of light or darkness” at this point would be more appropriate.

Imagine with me a sunrise. Perhaps in an open area such as a desert or a meadow. In that moment the night is put away by the sun and darkness is gone. All good, right? Well, unless you happen to be invisible, in the light, we still cast shadows. Shadows which follow us where ever we go. And ironically, those shadows cease to exist when darkness returns.

Christ is the true light from God which this world has had a difficult time understanding. Our broken and darkened world cannot comprehend that light can enter. That it already has. That light does its purpose. You can’t see in the dark. But when there is light, you can understand better which you see. I don’t think it’s the darkness understanding light which should be our concern. But those of in the light ought also make sure we understand our darkness from which we came. Then, will we be able make our shadow imitate us as we do good with the light which has incarnated itself into our world.

In Christ, the light and the darkness are reconciled and can co-exist together. To God (as spoken by the Psalms), there is no difference.